FACT #1: Everyone will experience anxiety from time to time.
FACT #2: Anxiety is a completely normal reaction to stress – most of the time.
Let’s define “most of the time.” It motivates us to study for tests or finish our assignments. It can warn us against walking down a creepy alley at night and is the key to a fight-or-flight response in a dangerous situation. Having a little bit of anxiety once in a while isn’t just normal, it’s healthy. It allows us to make good decisions and get things done.
Anxiety becomes a problem, however, when it doesn’t just affect you occasionally. When it begins to consume your thoughts on the daily, that’s when it becomes something more serious. If it starts to affect your work, personal life, or health, then you might have a real, diagnosable anxiety disorder. Many people flippantly throw out phrases like “you’re triggering my anxiety” or use anxiety as an excuse, but for some individuals, an anxiety disorder can cause real problems.
Anxiety disorders usually center around an excessive and irrational fear. Several common types of anxiety disorders are:
- Agoraphobia: fear of being in a place from which you can’t escape
- Panic Disorder: this triggers recurring intense panic attacks
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder: constant worrying
- Social Anxiety Disorder: inability to be the center of attention or talk to new people
So what are the key differences between having one of these types of anxiety and just being anxious? Here’s the 411.
If you are anxious, then it is probably triggered by something specific happening in your life. Maybe you’re meeting your boyfriend/girlfriend’s parents for the first time, or maybe you have a really big paper to finish that’s worth 50% of your grade. Those specific events are what bring on the anxiety, they make sense, and the anxiety will eventually go away when the event has passed. People with anxiety disorders are often anxious all the time. There is no specific stressor that sets off their anxiety, and their fears are often irrational. Even though the person with anxiety knows that, in theory, they should not be so worried, they simply cannot get their body to listen to their brain.
The Strength & The Length
As mentioned above, if you have an anxiety disorder, your amount of anxiety is not equal to the size of the stressor. For example, the idea of giving a quick and casual 3 minute presentation in class is not just undesirable, but will actually put you out of commission and leave you unable to get the job done. As mentioned above, you are anxious for an extended period of time as well – think weeks before an exam instead of days.
You’re not just worried, you are physically ill from your anxiety. Intense anxiety can often cause headaches, dizziness, trembling, nausea, etc. You feel like you can’t talk or breathe. You can’t think or concentrate about anything other than your fear. You get red or sweaty. This is more than just butterflies in your stomach.
We’re not WebMD here, and we don’t want to make you diagnose yourself or your roommates with something incorrect. However, if what we described above rings true for you or a friend, know that anxiety is treatable and that you shouldn’t be afraid to mention it to a doctor. There’s nothing wrong with taking care of your mental health; it’s a super important part of lala-loving yourself!
If you know someone who has an anxiety disorder, make sure not to make light of their condition. Think of it as their kid brother – they can make fun of it if they want to, but you can’t. Instead, make sure that you are simply there for them if they need help. Don’t tell them to calm down – they know they need to calm down. Don’t tell them that you are frustrated or annoyed by their anxiety – they’re probably already super self-conscious about how their anxiety affects the people around them. Some people may be helped by distractions, others by you sitting and listening, and others simply by sitting in silence with a friend. Each person’s anxiety is different, just like each person is different.
The most important thing to know about anxiety? BE KIND. Be kind to yourself if you suffer from it (or if you’re just stressed about a test), and be kind to your friends if they suffer from anxiety (or if they’re stressed about a test). A smile and a hug can go a long way.